The Ladder Game to Help Kids with Emotions

The ladder game is an effective tool to help children learn to recognize the emotions they feel in certain situations.
The Ladder Game to Help Kids with Emotions
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

The ladder game is a very effective technique to help children recognize the emotions they’re feeling in certain situations. When something they do or want doesn’t go as expected, kids get frustrated. If a toy is taken from them, they might get mad and yell or hit. This is because they can’t control the emotions that they’re feeling.

Often, kids who seem violent act out because they don’t know how to handle their emotionsThen, they end up expressing themselves through negative behaviors. That’s why emotional intelligence is so important, as it can define how the child behaves.

How to prepare the ladder game of emotions

This technique is based on the train of emotions by the psychopedagogue José Javier Sobrino González. It works with both younger and older children. This game is ideal for those who don’t yet have control over their emotions, and it’s closely linked to emotional intelligence.

What do you need to put the ladder game into practice? You need 5 sheets of paper in your favorite color and a marker or pencil.

A mom opening a box with her daughter.

So, now what? Write the following on each of the papers:

  1. What happened?
  2. What do I think?
  3. How do I feel?
  4. What did I do?
  5. The result.

The steps to follow with the ladder game

Next, we’re going to see how to work this game step by step.

  • Place the pieces of paper on the ground in the form of a ladder. The first step will be the paper that says “What happened?” and the last will be the sheet that says “The result.” You can use this technique when your child has reacted in a negative way to a situation. All you have to do is put them on the first step and answer the question “What happened?”
  • Then, they’ll go to the next one and answer the question “What do I think?”
  • The third step forces them to delve into their emotions by answering “What do I feel?”
  • Next, they have to analyze their actions by answering “What am I doing or have I done?”
  • Finally, they need to reflect on the benefits that they have gained by reacting in the way they did and if they achieved anything by it. Then, they have to repeat the process, but now they have to think about what the answers would be like if they had reacted in a calmer way.

Why does the ladder game help children?

Life is a constant construction of choices, and these are determined by emotions. We choose which way to go depending on the emotions we’re feelingA situation isn’t what causes one emotion or another, but the way we interpret it.

“Emotional disturbance isn’t created by situations, but by the interpretations we make of those situations.”

-Albert Ellis-

Parents have to help their children to make the most appropriate decision, and this technique can be very useful for this. Let’s take a look at an example:


Your child is playing with a friend or sibling and, at one point, they want a toy someone else has. However, the other child doesn’t let them. So, your child has two options:

  1. Get angry, yell and kick the toys around, so you get angry and punish them.
  2. Understand that right now the friend has the toy, and when they’re done, they can play with it.

Most children will react with option 1, so, once the anger subsides, explain that acting that way achieves nothing. At that point, you have to start the ladder game so they realize that option 1 isn’t good and that option 2 is better.

How to implement it

First, your child has to answer the questions according to what’s happened. Here, we’re going to assume that they reacted according to option 1.

  • What happened: “My friend or brother doesn’t want to give me the toy.”
  • What do I think? “It’s mine and I want to play with it now.”
  • How do I feel? “Very angry.”
  • What did I do? “I screamed and kicked the toys we had to play with.”
  • The result. “My parents got mad and punished me so now I can’t play.” And do you feel better now? “No.”
Two girls mad at each other.

After the child answers the questions about how they reacted, explain what the answers would be like if they reacted like option 2, in a more rational way.

  • What happened? “My friend or sibling doesn’t want to give me the toy.”
  • What do I think? “They’re playing with the toy now and I can play with another. When they’re done, I can play with it.”
  • How do I feel? “A little sad.”
  • What did I do? “Play with another toy while my friend or sibling finished playing with the one I want.”
  • Result. “I feel better. I am not angry any more because I can play with it later.”

This is just an example, but you can use it in any situation where your child has a negative reaction. This technique can also help teenagers with their emotions.

To summarize, the ladder game is a simple and effective tool for kids to realize what they’re feeling and why they react. This way, little by little, they’ll handle situations better and realize that acting negatively won’t help them.

So, whenever your child doesn’t have control of their emotions, which leads to inappropriate behavior, use this technique, as it will be very useful. What are you waiting for? Give it a try!


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Shapiro, L. E., & Tiscornia, A. (1997). La inteligencia emocional de los niños. Javier Vergara.
  • Herrera Torres, L., Buitrago Bonilla, R. E., & Perandones González, T. M. (2015). Psicología positiva e inteligencia emocional en educación.
  • Carcausto Vargas, Z., & Rizalaso Incacutipa, S. (2018). Juegos cooperativos en el desarrollo de la inteligencia emocional en niños y niñas de 4 años de edad de la IEI N° 275 “Llavini”-Puno 2017.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.